The move is in response to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "disengagement plan". 

"The leadership is examining many ideas and options to respond to Sharon's plan," Yasir Abd Rabbu, a member of the PLO executive committee, told reporters on Monday. 

One of the options was for the Palestinian Authority "to declare itself the authority representing the independent Palestinian state within the 1967 boundaries with Jerusalem as its capital," said Abd Rabbu, who was also the chief Palestinian architect of the unofficial Geneva Initiative peace plan. 

It would then demand "recognition from the United Nations and the international community," the former information minister said. 

"We cannot wait for Sharon to put his plans into action, we must respond beforehand." 

Disengagement

Sharon has warned he will begin implementing a series of unilateral measures within the next few months if there is no progress in the peace process with the Palestinians. 

The disengagement plan envisages a pullout from most of the Gaza Strip but not the West Bank to which many Gaza settlers may be relocated.

But the Palestinians say Israel must evacuate all of the occupied territories.

About 7800  Jewish settlers live in
the  Gaza Strip

Abd Rabbu said the Israeli plan was aimed at turning Palestinian areas into "ghettos and usurping the rest of the territories". 

"Sharon's declarations about the evacuation of the settlements are a deception and are designed to act as a cover for his racist separation plan." 

The Palestinians last threatened to unilaterally declare an independent state in September 2000 - the date fixed by one of a number of interim peace accords for a final settelment - but veteran leader Yasir Arafat renounced the move under international pressure. 

After a meeting chaired by Arafat in January, the leadership
issued a statement saying that it "believes it has the right under international law and signed accords to work towards the creation of a democratic state in all territories occupied in 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital."

Settlers vow

"We cannot wait for Sharon to put his plans into action, we must respond beforehand." 

Yasir Abd Rabbu,
Member of the PLO executive committee

Also on Monday, Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip said they were preparing to move 500 families to the area in an effort to thwart Sharon's disengagement plan. 

Settlers and their backers in the parliament have vowed to oppose Sharon's plan and topple his government if he begins implementing it. 

The 500 families will begin moving in the coming weeks to a tiny coastal settlement called Shirat Hayam and to youth hostels in existing settlements, said Eyal Sternberg, a spokesman for the Gaza settlers. 

Twenty families have recently received tenders to build houses in the settlement of Neve Dekalim, Sternberg said. 

About 7800 settlers live in the Gaza Strip, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. 

Hundreds of Israelis participated on Sunday in a ceremony to plant 3000 trees in the Gush Katif block of settlements in the Gaza Strip to demonstrate their opposition to Sharon's plan.